A guide to determine if you have flu, cold or COVID-19?

Differences & Similarities Between COVID-19, Flu & Common Cold

Last updated on July 23rd, 2021 at 3:55 am

It is common knowledge that COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Since then, there have been several developments regarding prevention, treatment and cure of the SARS COVID-19 virus. However, there is no proven treatment or vaccination yet. Facts are changing every few hours as more and more information is being revealed by research and experimentation. All over the world, COVID has infected over 10 million people and the numbers are still climbing. Tragically, the medical infrastructure has been unable to cope up with this outbreak for which no country could ever be ready. Though makeshift hospitals, isolation centres and quarantine zones have been set up to meet the demands of testing, diagnosis and treatment, however it has been underwhelming. At this point of time, it is vital for individuals to be able to spot and diagnose infection for themselves. Most of the people that are running to hospitals on seeing COVID like symptoms ultimately end up finding that they have nothing more than a seasonal flu or common cold. Since, there is so much similarity in the symptoms of all three; influenza, common cold and COVID that people are bound to get scared. This fear can be removed by passing on proper information about these three. Such information can be helpful in self-diagnosis and deciding whether one needs medical attention or not. By knowing about symptoms and treatment for these three disorders, one can refrain from overburdening medical personnel with false alarms and less severe cases. In this post we will discuss the symptoms of flu, cold and COVID, differences and their treatment. The confusion needs to be cleared to get a definite answer to the question ‘Is it a flu or Coronavirus infection?’




It is the newest strain form of a coronavirus which is a family of viruses responsible for common cold and other respiratory disorders. Relatively, COVID has a much higher death rate and is more contagious than the seasonal flu. Within 6 months, COVID has claimed over half a million lives and has shown no signs of subsiding. Social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) remains our only method of protection from COVID-19 infection. It spreads via droplets that come out from an infected person during coughing or sneezing. Symptoms of COVID-19 infection: Symptoms are somewhat similar to flu or common cold. The incubation period of a coronavirus is around 14 days, that means an infected person may not start showing symptoms before that time.

  • Mild to high fever with or without chills
  • Difficulty in breathing/shortness of breath
  • Dry cough with increasing intensity
  • Aches, pains, body or headache, fatigue
  • Sore throat, choked nasal passage

What to do after spotting symptoms? The first thing should be to isolate or self quarantine yourself. If the symptoms persist, visit your nearest doctor/hospital where you can get yourself tested for coronavirus infection. If the test results are negative you probably have the flu or a severe cold. In case of positive results for COVID-19 test, you will have to be admitted to begin treatment.


Seasonal Influenza or Flu

2. Seasonal Influenza or Flu

Influenza A and B viruses represent the seasonal influenza flu. This virus affects the lungs, nose, and throat and can last for 5-7 days. Influenza should not be taken lightly as severe symptoms may result in death. It spreads the same way as coronavirus, i.e. via droplets from cough or sneezing. Symptoms of influenza (flu): If you observe closely the symptoms appear similar to COVID-19 with minor differences. Symptoms can range from mild to severe which might need medical attention.

  • Fever with occasional chills
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Body aches, muscle pains
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Vomiting & diarrhoea (common in children)

How to prevent the flu? Luckily there is a vaccine that you can get to prevent seasonal influenza. Most people also get well without any medical treatment. However, it is recommended to get a shot to avoid catching the flu. Staying at home, plenty of liquids, rest and medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can easily cure the flu. Medical attention might be needed if the symptoms are severe and show no signs of slowing down.

3. Common Cold

common cold A common cold is usually harmless. It is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that involves nose and throat. Young children are most vulnerable to catching a cold. It spreads the same way as flu or COVID-19 virus, i.e via cough or sneeze droplets. Common cold may not be fatal but can cause malaise and discomfort for a long duration. Symptoms of common cold: The symptoms of common cold are strikingly similar to that of flu or COVID-19, only much milder in intensity.

  • Sore throat
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Slight headaches or body pains
  • Congestion and cough
  • Sneezing, loss of taste & smell
  • Low to mild fever without chills

How to treat the common cold? It could take anywhere from 2-10 days to recover from a common cold. If the symptoms still persist or worsen, visit a doctor. Prevention involves washing hands regularly and avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth.

Comparison of COVID-19, flu and common cold:

The common cold and influenza have similar symptoms to COVID-19 infection. Their mode of infection is also strikingly the same. They all get transferred via droplets from sneezing or coughing or by touching your mouth, nose, eyes etc. after coming in contact with an infected surface. However, there are slight differences in the symptoms which can help us pinpoint if an infection is COVID-19 or common problems like cold or flu. The methods of prevention remain the same generic ones to keep the virus away from yourself:

  • Wash your hands regularly with a disinfecting soap.
  • Avoid coming too close to an infected person.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth frequently
  • Wear a mask when in a crowd and maintain distance.
  • Do not share personal items like handkerchiefs, towels, water bottles etc.

There is no serius death threat from common cold or influenza, however, coronavirus infection can be deadly. The best prevention right now is to follow the above guidelines and keep a strong immune system. A vaccine for the coronavirus may be around the corner but until it is out in the market for general use, there is still a threat of infection. The best treatment is prevention.

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